Interview with Chris Rosser

Cadoc’s Contract
The Lords of Skeinhold
By Chris Rosser

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

Cadoc wanted more than the life of a simple farmer. So, when Artur, Duke of Kas Mendoc raised his banner, Cadoc answered the call, marching south to enlist in a great crusade against the Oskoi. He travels to a distant land and carves his name in the bodies of the dead.

Yet Cadoc has a secret, a contract made with the gods to give him the strength he needs to survive this bloody war. One hundred souls — a debt of blood to a hungry god. But disaster strikes and Cadoc flees for his life. Can he face the men he left behind and account for those he killed? Has he paid his debt, or was his soul part of the price?

Just released, Cadoc’s Contract is the second novella by Chris Rosser set in the Skeinhold series, and another masterful tale by a burgeoning new voice in the Aussie spec-fic scene.

I met Chris online via a mutual friend who told me he had another friend who also wrote fantasy. That friend was Chris. So I checked out the first novella Chris has released (The Weavers Boy) and followed him on twitter. Chris is quite sociable and likes to get to know the people who follow him, so he started chatting, and I chatted back, and the rest is history.

I thought I’d ask Chris if he’d like to do an interview, answering ten (terrifying!) questions, in support of the release of Cadoc’s Contract. He said yes!

So, sit back, relax, grab a coffee, a tea, a water – or even something stronger-, and say hello to Chris Rosser.

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m originally from the Wales in the United Kingdom. I migrated to Australia in the mid-80s with my family. After a brief stop in Melbourne’s western suburbs I moved out to Bacchus Marsh, where I finished the rest of my primary and secondary schooling. Bacchus Marsh oddly enough produced another great Australian writer — Peter Carey. After finishing school, I stud-ied History and Archaeology at Melbourne University, then I went on to compete a Masters of Arts in Editing and Communication.

What started you writing, and is it the same thing that still inspires you today?

I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, but I first started taking it seriously (at least as a hobby) when I was 15 or 16. Back then I did it for the sheer fun of it. Then when I started sharing them, people said I wasn’t half bad and that I should consider publishing. Like most youngsters, I dreamed of fame and riches and got frustrated when realities set in. So, I became a professional technical writer instead, and the professions been very good to me. Now I’ve happily come full-circle, and I’m back to writing fiction for pleasure and I’m much happier for it.

How many novels/stories did you write before you published?

Far out, I’ve probably written about 15 books in various stages of completion before I published my first in 2018. A couple of them will be resurrected, but they belong to different genres, so I’ve not yet decided how and when I’ll tart those up for publication. Right now I’m focusing on finishing my current fantasy series.

What has your publishing journey been like?

It’s been a long and staggered process if I’m honest. I first tried going the traditional route in 2005-ish and actually managed to find an agent here in Australia that agreed to take me on. Unfortunately for reasons I still don’t understand, she dropped me with nothing more than an irrelevant rant via email. Being young and inexperienced, it was quite a blow to my confidence and I didn’t have the self-belief to try again. I would have dealt with an outright rejection, but to be accepted then dropped… that was rough.

Anyway, not long after, I landed my first professional writing job, then I moved to the UK with my wife to work and travel throughout Europe, and I didn’t write much fiction beyond the occasional tilt at Nanowrimo. Then, as we were coming back to Australia via North America in 2010 the Kindle revolution was gathering momentum, I bought a Barnes&Noble Nook in New York and I began to consider self-publishing. We started a family not long after we got back to Melbourne though, but the idea wouldn’t go away. I slowly started to get back into writing, picking up Nanowrimo and blogging again in 2014. I guess I just fell back in love with writing fiction.

When I published The Weaver’s Boy, it was almost by accident. I mostly wrote it as a means of getting back into my characters and my fantasy setting. But I was invited by someone on Twitter to submit a story to their online magazine. I took a punt with an extract of The Weaver’s Boy, and was accepted. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, and I thought bugger it, I’ll publish the complete story and see what comes!

Please tell us about your novel, Cadoc’s Contract.

You can blame the muse for this one. After I published The Weaver’s Boy last year, I had the sudden inspiration to write the story of how Cadoc became the Lord of Skeinhold. When we meet him, he’s journeying by sea back from a disastrous crusade in which he fought as a mercenary. Like many veterans, he’s tormented by what he did and what he saw. He’s also hiding a dark secret, one that’s going to land him and his family in a lot of hurt.

So, it’s become a prelude to my series, set about 6 years before The Weaver’s Boy. It wasn’t an easy draft to write, but I managed to wrangle it back into shape and I think it turned out to be a terrific story, one that helps to set the tone of the series, along with serving as a decent introduction to my word.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Geez where to start! Time is probably my biggest issue these days, thanks to juggling a family and a full-time job. Good writing takes a lot of revision, and an obsession with craft — doubly so when you’re an indie author and can’t just boot it off to your editor for umpteen revisions.

One thing I do battle with is the conventions of the genre. Fantasy and fantasy readers have particular expectations, but for me character and story comes first and I challenge every trope I find. That can lead to moments self-doubt and I wonder if I’m scuttling my chances of being read!

Beyond the writing itself, and the biggest drag is publishing and marketing. It’s doubly hard when you’re outside the United States and certain companies either cripple their services for non-US residents or block us outright from accessing them. For an example, I’m about to start narrating my own audiobooks but the biggest distributor ACX (Audible), won’t allow me to do so from Australia.

What is your work schedule like when you’re in writer’s mode?

See above! A lot of my writing time is fuelled by midnight oil, after my kids have gone to sleep. Sometimes I can schedule in a Sunday afternoon, or snatch some time during my commute to and from work. When Nanowrimo comes round, I usually take some annual leave where I can, though I think I’ve outgrown Nano, and won’t be doing it this year.

Do you use an outline when you write, or are you more of a discovery writer?

Ah, the eternal question: to plot or pants! I’ve tried both. Purely pantsing just doesn’t work for me — I tried with Cadoc’s Contract and the original Weaver of Dreams and it took about much longer than it should have. By the same token, I don’t like outlining so much that it spoils the discovery and takes all the fun out of writing. So, these days I get my characters right in my head, and I have a vague outline to plot the story’s direction. That gives my analytical mind the road map it needs, but there’s enough undiscovered territory to intrigue the muse.

How do you balance what you’re reading against what you’re writing?

The honest answer is I don’t. I have so little time as it is, reading is just one of those things that gets pushed to the backburner, particularly when I’m drafting. When I read these days it’s less for pleasure and mostly to review books for my website and newsletter, or to beta-read the works of other authors.

Today, when I consume a book for pleasure, I’m much more likely to listen to an audiobook, and then it’s typically a genre that I don’t write. After 6 years of academic study and 15 years as a professional writer and editor, I find it very hard to switch off my inner critic. When I listen to an audiobook however, I don’t have that problem.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Practice, practice, practice…and be realistic. Writing is a difficult craft, and I’d challenge the belief that it comes naturally to anyone. If you look at your first draft and say to yourself, ‘hey this is awesome,’ you are delusional and you lack the self-criticism you need to improve your craft. Leave it for a month and when you revisit your manuscript, you’ll understand.

I’d also encourage new writers not to compare themselves to their favourite author. When you marvel at the skill of your favourite book, you’re seeing a finished product that’s undergone a huge (often collaborative) effort to produce and refine. When I was a masters student, a lecturer noted that one of Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novels had more than 12 thousand editorial corrections. Step out of the shadows, find your voice and believe in your self.

Chris Rosser, thank you!

Interview with Aidan R Walsh

In my last post I raved about The Game Bird by Aidan R Walsh (Buy it here!).

I have also been lucky enough to sit down with him (on the interwebs) and question him interview him, gaining a greater insight into his world and writing life.


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Hi! I’m Aidan (R!) Walsh.

I was born in Newcastle, Australia. I spent primary school in Newcastle before my parents moved us up to the family cattle property outside a little place called Singleton. Singleton was a great country town to grow up in and I got a lot more Sound Garden and old Commodores in my life that I might otherwise have had… I’m also the oldest of five sons, so growing up on a big property involved a lot of motorbikes and blowing things up and other general mayhem.

After school I moved back to Newcastle for university, where I read Classics extremely lazily, before going on to work at a large telco.

2. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

God, all of them. At eighteen I was a dolt. A dolt who embarrassingly thought he was clever.

To pick one idiotic thing, I had a weirdly British Imperial concept of manhood. Very into pluck,  fortitude and duuuuteh and other John Buchan-type  things like that. Some of those attributes are fine, and I think being able to deal with disaster and keep your head isn’t such a bad thing, but thankfully my views of what manhood and masculinity can and should  be have rather broadened since.

3. What books, or authors, would you say have most influenced you in the type of writer you’ve become?

There are far too many fantastic writers that I’ve learnt from and enjoyed to list, but in no particular order I’d say my chief influences are:

Georgette Heyer
Robin Hobb
David Eddings
David Gemmell
Naomi Novik
Dorothy L. Sayers
Patrick O’Brian
Keith Douglas

4. Please tell us about your debut novel, The Game Bird.

Putting my marketers hat on, I call The Game Bird a swashbuckling black powder fantasy, wrapped around a spine of darkness and romance.

There are two main characters. The first is a young sea-captain who, in an effort to escape his debtors, sets out to hunt a sea-monster. The second is a clever young woman who carries a curse and is hunted by a half daemon assassin. Then there are leviathans, weather mages, secret societies, storms and mutiny.

Think Heyer’s Regency period and romance, O’Brian’s ships and seas and Eddings, Hobbs and Gemmell’s fantasy. All mashed together.

5. What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Time! Time! Time!

I’m fortunate that ideas come to me easily and I can write quite briskly, but finding time is a real challenge. I work a job that regularly gets me for sixty hours a week and I try to be a present husband and dad – and all that just makes it hard to find time. I’d say at least 80% of The Game Bird was written between 21:00 and 02:00.

6. How do you balance what you’re reading against what you’re writing?

In my case, with difficulty.

I find it very hard to keep my own voice when reading a great novel at the same time as I am writing. Consequently, I read something very, very different to what I’m working on. Or I just read non-fiction. In the case of The Game Bird I wolfed down a huge number of Regency period letters, biographies and diaries while I was writing.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Enjoyment! I just tried my best to write a book that would be a really enjoyable adventure.

I also hope people like and remember my characters. I’m a bit sick of fantasy’s current gloominess and I wanted to write characters that are flawed, foolish and silly at times – but basically good people doing their best. People who you want to succeed.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

I’m tempted to lie and say something adult like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but my real answer would have to be the polar explorer, Tom Crean. His fortitude, good humour, endless patience, unshakeable bravery and almost complete humility is just incredible (also, maybe I haven’t changed that much since 18).

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Five hundred years before the events of The Game Bird,  there was a great upheaval in my world into which burst a hero (and maybe prophet – which the world has fought about endlessly since), Prince Isaladar. I’d love to write an epic trilogy covering his life. I’d have to hone my craft a lot before I had a crack at that though.

Even less practically, I’ve set myself the goal to make enough money from writing to buy a 1972 Buick GSX.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

For God’s sake write.

So many writers don’t ever seem to  finish anything. I’ve been in and out of writing clubs and groups for the last ten years and for every one writer who fails because they’re not good enough, I’ve seen dozens who just petered out because they just didn’t stick at the whole putting words on a page thing.

Just write!

It’s never easy to sit down at the end (or start) of a long day when you could be having a beer / playing a game / watching Netflix, but if you’re serious about writing that’s what you need to do. As often as you can without going crazy or wrecking your health.

Aidan R Walsh, thank you for your time.
Readers can find Aidan on Facebook, Twiiter and online here.

Buy The Game Bird now!

Gary Gibson answers Ten Terrifying Questions

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

– Born in Glasgow, Scotland. Raised in Glasgow, Scotland. Schooled in Glasgow, Scotland. Well, mostly, apart from a few years living in Ayrshire. Or, as I like to think of it, north of the Ice Wall amongst the WIldlings.

What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

– At twelve, I pretty much wanted to be Arthur C. Clarke. Actually, I also wanted to shave my head and wear white robes like the Talosian in the original Star Trek. That’s when I started thinking about writing since I was already sucking up science fiction books like a Roomba in a universe of dust-bunnies. By eighteen, I’d decided I wanted to be Jimmy Page (guitarist in Led Zeppelin) because I’d just moved back to Glasgow from darkest Ayrshire and discovered rock music. The writing took a back seat for a while. But in my mid-twenties, I’d had a kind of Damascene moment and started writing again. By the time I was thirty I’d had a couple of short stories published in pro sf and fantasy magazines.

What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

– That logic and reason will always win any argument. It took a lot of bumps to work out logic and reason are the last things a lot of people ever want to hear.

What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

– There’s no three things. It’s everything, all at once, poured into a single Gary Gibson-shaped mould. But if you kidnapped my dog – that is, if I had a dog – and showed me a live stream of it held over a bucket of piranhas and demanded I answer, I’d pick: Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge, Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and the Gaia trilogy by John Varley. If I’ve got any influences, it’s those three. Probably.

Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

– It’s a falsity to say there are ‘innumerable’ artistic avenues open to anyone. Well, there are, but whether you’re actually any good at them is another matter. I “chose” to write a novel because it turns out that’s what I’m good at it, it’s fun, and there’s pretty much nothing else I can think of I might possibly want to do with my life.

Please tell us about your latest novel Extinction Game

– I couldn’t just sit down and write a straight post-apocalyptic book, because it’s been done so many times. I needed something extra. A classic post-apocalyptic trope is the Last Man on Earth story, so since I’d been reading up on theories regarding the idea we live in a multiverse of infinite parallel realities, it made sense that there must also be an infinite number of universes in which different people are the last man or woman on Earth.

From there it didn’t take much more than a hop or skip to figure out an interesting story lay in bringing those people together through some technology that allows travel from one alternate reality to another. Why write a book about one world-destroying apocalypse, when you can write a book that by definition includes every single possible apocalypse?

What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

– An immediate desire to send me the entire contents of their bank accounts and the deeds to their homes. I’m not saying I planted any post-hypnotic suggestions in my books or anything, but…

Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

– Anyone who writes what they choose to write, regardless of what others think.

Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

– To produce a book a year; to always improve; to maintain a healthy level of self-criticism that allows me to grow as a writer; to be ambitious, in the sense of never resting on my laurels; to surprise, entertain and delight; to be raised to Godhood and worshipped by milli…ok, maybe not that last one.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

– To understand that what appears to be failure is instead an opportunity to define and build on your true strengths.

Mark T. Barnes answers Ten Terrifying Questions!

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled? 

I was born, raised and schooled in Sydney, Australia. Nothing terribly exciting, or controversial. I’m the eldest of five children, raised in a loving and supportive environment, so there’s not a lot of baggage associated with my upbringing. My parents saw that I was creative at an early age, and encouraged me to explore that part of myself–along with my studies, and sports.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be a pilot, because I loved the idea of flying. When I was 18 I really had no idea, being conflicted with the various choices of university, and work. I ended up drifting from thing to thing until I ended up in IT when I was 20. At 30 I think I had my head screwed on better, and was managing teams of people working in the human space of an IT outsourcer, as well as some of the creative elements of services and solution design. I loved the people element but did the job because it was lucrative. 🙂  Nothing particularly philosophical about that. I was living with my partner at the time, and she and I just wanted to have the money to do whatever we wanted to do. I was writing, or drawing, in various capacities throughout those years: I’ve always done something creative.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That people should be treated for who they are and what they do, rather than judged on gender, religion, sexual orientation, skin colour, or any of the other ridiculous measures that have been put in place over the years. Treat people with kindness and respect, and help those less fortunate than yourself. Simple human values.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Way more than three.  🙂 Most of my influences are from books or films, as they informed the kinds of stories I write. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. Beowulf. Weaveworld and Imajica by Clive Barker. The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Most of Shakespeare’s tragedies . . . I think anything that demonstrated a sense of grace, integrity, honour, kindness, and wanderlust in the characters.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel? 

Because I’m judgement impaired?  🙂  No, I chose to write a novel because it was, for me, the best way of exploring the stories that I wanted to tell. There’s a beauty in language, and the way it can transport us, that I find compelling.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel The Obsidian Heart…

The Obsidian Heart is the second in my Echoes of Empire series. It’s a story of adventure, action, magic, and love, set in a sweeping world with rich history and cultures, and intense political machinations. Like The Garden of Stones (the first book), it’s both character and story driven. Unlike a lot of fantasy, it has strong, motivated female characters who hold positions of authority and influence. I’ve never understood sexism, so chose to make women and men equal in all ways in my books.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I’m writing to entertain. I hope that people can, while reading my work, forget their troubles and engage with a different world, interesting characters, and be curious enough and excited enough to want to keep turning the page. Forward, preferably.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

That’s a long and varied list. The ones I admire most are those who’ve told brave stories, and dared to challenge what the genre looked like: people who wrote something different, and people who wrote something that challenged their readers. I think we stagnate if we remain still for too long, and speculative fiction should have us speculate on different worlds, cultural mores, histories, gender roles, etc. Amongst the people I admire are Frank Herbert for Dune, which is still one of my all time favourite books for its scope, vision, and depth. Gene Wolfe for his Book of the New Sun (and other work), where his use of language and world building is exceptional. M. John Harrison for Viriconium, for the same reasons as Gene Wolfe. Steven Erikson, for the depth of his world building and his bravery to drop readers in the deep end from the beginning: China Mieville for the same reasons. Joe Abercrombie for the way he writes such great characters, some you love and some you love to hate. George R.R. Martin, for his getting his work on the small screen, and helping publishers realise that readers do want something big and complex that they can get lost in. Neil Gaiman for his ability to move between genres, and keep his readers engaged as he does so. Clive Barker not only for his talent and originality, but for his openness about his life and how he lives it. There are more, but I would be writing this answer for a while.

To be honest, anybody who puts finger to keyboard, and places themselves in the public domain with their work, has my respect and admiration. It’s a long, difficult and competitive road that authors are on. To get where they are is a triumph of determination and talent in and of itself. Self published authors are included given how much effort they go to, to develop and promote their own work. Being published is a great feeling but there’s a lot of work to get there.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To see some of my work on television within the next few years. Any television producers reading this, please feel free to get in touch with my agent.  🙂

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Be persistent, be patient, and grow a thick skin. There are a lot of writers published, with more waiting. Your work is going to be compared to a lot of different authors: it’s the nature of things. Because one person doesn’t like what you’ve written, doesn’t make it bad. It means that the person in question prefers other work, so don’t take it personally. The same goes for agents and publishers. They need to be passionate about a project before they’ll put time and money behind it. Write often. Read widely. Get better at your craft. Learn from those who’ve paved the way before you. And write what you love!

Thank you for playing.

Thanks for asking, Mark! Any time. It was my pleasure.

Read my reviews of The Garden of Stone and The Obsidian Heart.

Brian Staveley answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Brian kindly answered these questions for my last SF & F Buzz from Booktopia (you can sign up for the monthly Buzz edited by moi here) and just in case you missed I am pimping it.

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled? 

I grew up in New Hampshire, a small, cold state with some mountains and some rock in the northeastern part of the US. I’m sure I was raised in a house, but most of my childhood memories involve roaming the woods, building forts, fording rivers, and climbing trees. Eventually I went to college in the same state, a wonderful experience, but one in which I was forced to spend what could have been some valuable adventuring time inside studying.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve, it seemed self-evident that there was no profession more noble or practical than that of the knight errant. Unfortunately, that sort of work fell out of vogue a while back, so I was forced to become more realisitic. I turned to poetry (both the writing and the reading), but that turned out to be even less profitable than knight errantry, not to mention the fact that it involved considerably less exercise. Finally, by thirty, I’d realized that I wanted to write books, and so I set out to do so, not realizing quite how long it takes to write an actual book.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I thought the big things mattered more and the little things mattered less.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

As I kid, I devoured Ursula Le Guin’s novels, reading almost entirely for the dragons and the unnamed shadow monsters and such. Later, I realized just what a staggeringly good prose stylist she is, and just how brilliantly she’s able to bring her questing, generous, unflinching sensibility to any topic she chooses. She is, in my mind, the ultimate example of a writer who can tell a ripping good story while, at the same time, crafting sentences and paragraphs that invite reading, and re-reading, and re-reading. The same goes for William Faulkner – dazzling writing, nail-biting plot-lines – but Faulkner lacks Le Guin’s seemingly effortless mastery. I love Faulkner, but you can always hear him muttering in the background.

Then there’s Johann Sebastian Bach. Whenever I feel like I’ve accomplished something, literary or otherwise, I just listen to a little Bach. Something like the D-minor chaconne makes my stacking the wood or writing a chapter feel like pretty meager fare… but then, I get to listen to Bach, the amazement of which more than makes up for my own failings.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel? 

The scope. A novel (or a series of novels) offers more range than just about any other art form. There are no length constraints on a novel (don’t tell my editor I said that), and while each genre has its tropes and tendencies, there are no strict formal requirements. I spent many years writing poetry, an experience that felt like being hunched over a jeweler’s bench trying to set tiny gems into intricate settings. I enjoyed that work, and found it excellent training, but eventually I started to get a crick in my neck. After a while, I got tired of squinting. Writing a novel feels more like building something huge – maybe one of those neolithic burial mounds – that takes forever but that allows you to dig down into the earth as far as you want, or to look up at the position of the sun.

As far as non-writing art forms go? Well, if you heard me try to play the banjo, you’d understand why I don’t play music. And let’s not even get into the visual art thing.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Emperor’s Blades tells the story of three adult children of a murdered emperor – two sons and a daughter; a monk, an elite warrior, and a politician – who are trying to uncover the plot that led to their father’s death. This proves a harrowing task in its own right, and is made harder by the fact that their own lives also seem to be in danger. Even worse, as the novel progresses, the goals of the unknown murderers start to look larger and more terrifying than the simple usurpation of a single empire.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Whenever a new reader emails me to say she stayed up until 3AM finishing the book, and that I can go to hell because now she’s useless at work today and irritated that the next book won’t be out for nine months, I consider that a success.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire anyone who sits down with a story to tell and works as hard as she can, as long as it takes, to tell it well.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’m not sure my ambitions are so grand. If people love the books and I’m able to avoid becoming a hunchback from using the computer sixty-two hours a day, I’ll be happy. Oh, and I suppose I want my son (who is now just a year and a half old) to pick up one of my books some day and think I did a good job.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t expect it to get any easier.

Brian, thank you for playing.

Michelle Sagara and Booktopia’s Ten Terrifying Questions

Cast in Peril
Chronicles of Elantra #8
By Michelle Sagara


It has been a busy few weeks for Private Kaylin Neva. In between angling for a promotion, sharing her room with the last living female Dragon and dealing with more refugees than anyone knew what to do with, the unusual egg she’d been given was ready to hatch. Actually, that turned out to be lucky, because it absorbed the energy from the bomb that went off in her quarters…

So now might be the perfect time to leave Elantra and journey to the West March with the Barrani. If not for the disappearances of citizens in the fief of Tiamaris-disappearances traced to the very Barrani Kaylin will be traveling with…

Yay! My ‘interview’ with Michelle has gone up on the booktopia blog – I am 2/3’s of the way through Cast in Peril and (as is always the case with most of the things Michelle writes) I am loving it!!! Michelle’s work awes me. And as much as it inspires me it makes me terrified of ever picking up a pen (or touching keyboard) again.

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, raised, and schooled in the then borough of North York, which is now part of Toronto. When we moved into our newly constructed semi-detached home, there was a farm within walking distance, and we would take carrots to feed the ponies there. That didn’t last very long, and there’s really no evidence now of what was once a farm and its environs.

I still live in Toronto, so geographically, I’ve lead a very boring life.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I honestly don’t remember what I wanted to be when I was twelve. I was, at that age, a voracious reader, but reading was not considered a terribly social activity (go figure); I would frequently invite multiple friends over to my house in the hopeful theory that they would play and talk with each other, so that I could curl up in a corner and finish a book.

I had no desire to be a writer at that stage. At age thirteen, if I had discovered the fanfic community, I’m almost certain I would have joined it–although maybe not. I wrote my first novel at that age, but never showed it to anyone. Thank god. Writing was intensely personal. I didn’t write for an audience; I wrote for me.

(I think, when I was six, I wanted to be a doctor or a fireman, if that helps).

I know what I wanted to be when I was eighteen, but it’s unlikely to be impressive: I wanted to be myself. Fully myself. I wanted to like – openly – what I liked, love who I loved, answer all asked questions honestly. I wanted to stop being terrified of what other people would think of me, to stop attempting to live up to other people’s expectations (or down to them). This started a year or two earlier, and I was a touch fanatic by this point.

I wanted to own my own life, accept the consequences for my own mistakes. I did not care, at that point, if this meant I would have no friends. I probably offended any number of strangers, because I was a prickly little porcupine: I wanted people to understand, up front, that I was me, not more and not less, and if they didn’t like it, they would regret making it my problem >.<. I started to spend more time with the geeks, and less time with the activists; I swore off of boys, declaring to a friend when she said that she wanted to be a bridesmaid when I got married that she could be a pallbearer at my wedding.

This may be because, at heart, I’m a lazy person. It was so much work to be someone who wasn’t me. It was work to watch every word and gesture and reaction. The thing is: we all want to be liked. It’s human. But I grew to understand that if someone liked me because I was pretending to be something else, they didn’t like me.

At the age of thirty? At the age of thirty, I had three books published. I had already decided that I would work in the bookstore and write books, because neither of these on their own would be enough to live on, but combined, they would pay my rent. I was married four years by that point. So: at the age of thirty, with some trepidation, I wanted to be a mother.

I’ve written about some of that experience on my LiveJournal.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I can’t think of a single thing. Oh wait. I believed that I would never, ever get married.

I have to go back to fifteen, and even then, it’s amorphous: my attitudes about love, true love, and parenting were different – but I’m not sure I would classify that as belief.

I think at eighteen, I assumed that life was more personal, especially in disappointment, than I do now. I came to realize that life was not, in fact, out to get me; it happened. It just happened. But as I met people from different backgrounds, with different sexual orientations and different religions, it broadened my worldview without breaking any of it.

For instance: my mother had always taught me that when two people love each other, they get married. Seriously. That was the sum total of relationship advice.

What she *didn’t* say: was “when a man and a woman love each other” etc., etc. So discovering that people were gay, lesbian, bisexual was surprising, but it didn’t break anything. For me, the ‘love each other’ part was tantamount, if unpredictable from the vantage of a sheltered, normative life. (She was, otoh, shocked.)

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The first SF novel I read was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. It was a revelation. At fifteen, I was aware of the difficulties that sexism and gendered attitudes caused, being among other things female. What I was less aware of was my own attitudes, my own assumptions.

In Left Hand of Darkness, there is one human diplomat and a planet full of aliens who do not have gendered sexual characteristics unless they’re in heat. They’re not defined by their sexual gender identities because they don’t have any; they can, during their cycle, adopt either gender for the purposes of procreation.

One of the aliens had a personality I did not care for at all. And I was shocked when that character went into his sexual cycle and became female. Everything about the personality – everything I didn’t like – seemed so ineluctably male to me.

And I realized, as I twisted my brain around the unexpected, that I *had* gender expectations and identifications, and that they *weren’t* harmless. All of early Le Guin SF had a strong effect on me. She examined the Other and the Other looked back from her pages.

In some ways, I was the Other in my early life. I was the child of one of the only two Japanese Canadian families in my neighborhood, and the only Asians. This lasted until I was in grade five or six, when a few Chinese families (from Hong Kong) moved in.

The second is Lord of the Rings. I read Tolkien for the first time as a child – it was the Hobbit. I loved it. But when I opened Fellowship of the Ring, it wasn’t about Bilbo – it was some strange Frodo person instead. I wanted a book about Bilbo. So I put the book down. I came back to it later. and I read it in one sitting (with the usual breaks for school, dinner, etc.).

I loved those books. They moved me in a way that nothing else I’d read to date had. I read them through three or four times in succession, and then read all the appendices, and then reread the hobbit. And I read them once a year, every year, until I had children.

The third is Dream of a Common Language, a book of poetry by Adrienne Rich, which I was given in my first year of university. Poetry is, to me, writing that depends on experience. Everything’s a metaphor, but without the specific life experience to which the metaphor speaks, the poem doesn’t work. It’s all ‘aha’ moments, moments of sharp clarity, moments in which a metaphor you would never have chosen feels exact, true and personal. Dream of a Common Language spoke to me strongly. I’m not sure it would have, had I discovered it earlier or later – but at that point in time, it sang.

I’m not entirely certain that I can trace a literary legacy through these three things, although I write secondary world high fantasy.

None of the three are music; none of the three are visual. I have almost no visual acumen, and when music moves me, it moves me entirely because of the lyrics.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I didn’t, in my own mind, have innumerable artistic avenues. As I said above, I have no visual acumen, no spatial acuity–which would rule out visual arts. I always read. I wrote. I didn’t write *for* readers until my last year of high school, and even then, it was only for my classmates. I had a few poems published in the UC review in university, but only because it was a student run journal and one of the editors had been in a workshop class with me in that final year and he asked specifically for some of the pieces that had passed through the workshop.

I wrote my first entirely unreadable novel at thirteen years of age. I started three in high school. I did not start them assuming that I would be published: I wrote them because I couldn’t not write them.

But when it came time to choose what I wanted to do with my life, I chose to write, because I already wrote. I would have to take the risk of writing for people who were not me, of exposing my work to people who were also not me. I would have to learn how to revise, and when.

But it was time. I wanted to be read. I wanted–when read–to move people. I wanted to write something they could love in the same way I had loved Lord of the Rings. They were books of my reader’s heart. So is almost everything by Terry Pratchett. But what I love and what I can write are not always the same thing, and I doubt that anyone could find any hint of Pratchett in my writing.

So: I needed to find the stories I could believe in, and the stories I could tell.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Cast in Peril is the 8th novel in the Chronicles of Elantra. (The first is Cast in Shadow). In it, Kaylin has a room-mate for the first time in her adult life, which earns her serious attention she doesn’t want from the Imperial Palace and the Emperor. It earns serious attention from unidentified assailants who aren’t best pleased by the race of her new room-mate, and it sees her leave the exterior borders of Elantra for the first time.

Also: an egg hatches.

I really don’t want to say too much more than that because it heads into spoiler territory and some people really dislike spoilers.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I want, first and foremost, to move people. I want to make them laugh (hopefully when something is intentionally funny >.>) or cry or bite their fingernails.

But I also want them to see some of their own life in the struggles of the characters, and I want them to emerge with something like hope. I write fantasy. Fantasy is generally considered escapist. I won’t argue with this: it is. But when we step outside of our own lives for hours at a time, we’re open to experiences that we don’t have the spoons for while we’re struggling to stay above water. If my worlds aren’t true in the same way that going to the office/bookstore/school is, they’re true in a different way: the characters are human, and they want – for themselves – similar things: security. Safety. They want to be able to protect the things they care about, and to achieve the goals they’ve set themselves.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

This is hard, and I’m not sure I can answer it because the answer is a moving target; it depends on my mental energy at any given time. Today, because I have a million deadlines and I am flailing and running around like a headless chicken, I would say Terry Pratchett.

Why? Because I can’t do what he does. I admire it, I am so grateful for it, but I can’t do it. Pratchett makes me laugh, yes – but he makes me laugh by reminding me that I can be both frustrated and affectionate. That I can find the humor in things that didn’t, before I started the book, seem humorous at the time. Bureaucratic nightmares. Over-focused collectors. Terrifying mothers (Nanny Ogg.)

I emerge from a Pratchett novel in a much better frame of mind than I generally enter one in.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Finishing all of the story arcs in the West universe.

I don’t have great, ambitious life goals. I want to get my kids through school. I want to finish the story I began in Hunter’s Oath, continued in Sun Sword, and am writing now in House War. I want to reach the readers to whom these books will speak.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

It’s funny that you should ask this, because I recently wrote an introduction for Tanya Huff, a special guest at this year’s World Fantasy Convention. In it, I distill all of the writing advice I learned from Tanya when we worked together at Bakka. Tanya and I have very different — VERY different — processes. I am a process geek. I love novel structure. I love the ways in which we all approach it, because no two writers work the same way.

Tanya is a practical, pragmatic person who has a strong aversion to pretension. She does not have the novel structure geek gene. And that’s fine. But if we read different books (with some overlap) and get excited about different things in those books, we both, at base, follow this advice:

Butt in chair. Write more. Whine less.

All the theorizing, all of the deconstruction, all of the research in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t make time to do the actual writing. When I look at that, it sounds harsh. But I wrote five books while working full-time. Tanya wrote more before she moved out of the city. When we start writing, we’ve got commitments, and most of us are working full-time. Making the time to write, and doing the writing in that time, had to be a priority. It came before television (I didn’t watch much) or movies or drinking with friends – because it had to be done in our ‘spare’ time.

Having said that?

No two writers work the same way. Some writers write 60 page outlines. Some don’t write outlines at all. Some write scenes out of order as the mood strikes them; some have to write from page 1 to the end. Some write dossiers on characters. Some discover character as they write.

There is no one way to write a novel. There’s only your way. So, while your butt is in the chair and you’re writing, everything else is up for grabs. There’s no guideline to process; you have to find out – often by trial and error – what works for you.

Michelle, thank you for playing.

Tad Williams and Booktopia’s 10 Terrifying Questions

The Dirty Streets of Heaven
Bobby Dollar #1
By Tad Williams


Sure, he takes the occasional trip to Heaven, but his job as an advocate – arguing the fate of the recently deceased – keeps him pretty busy on Earth, and he’s more than happy to spend the rest of his time propping up the bar with his fellow immortals. Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by ‘the other side’. A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.

And for my 3rd interview on behalf of Booktopia, I subjected Tad Williams to our 10 Terrifying Questions!

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I grew up in Palo Alto, California, the college town for Stanford University and one a birthplace of modern technology.  But when I grew up, it was a little slower, less money-oriented, and I grew up with the idea that it was more important to do something I liked with my life than to make money.  (Not that money was bad, just that it was a tool, not an important thing in and of itself.)

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I was losing interest in being an archaeologist and beginning to think I’d be a comic book artist for Marvel.  By eighteen I had transitioned pretty thoroughly into my “rock star” prep years.  By the time I was thirty, I’d realized that writing was going to be a better long-term plan, especially since you didn’t have to work with drummers.  But although I worked in suit-and-tie jobs for years, the idea I might do that as a career was poison.  I grew up in the ’60s, remember.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That when I felt like I was right about something, I WAS right, that I actually had objective memory of things.  And that my personal tastes in music and art were something other than subjective, and that failing to rise to my tastes was an indicator of failure on the part of others.  I’m much less certain of things now, and I like it better.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I was one of those people who fell in love with Tolkien early.  I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS first when I was eleven or so.  I think it was the idea of created worlds and imaginary history that grabbed me.  I was also very influenced by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s early Marvel comics and by Dickens.  And later, GRAVITY’S RAINBOW knocked my socks off and made me want to be a grown-up writer.

Art, theater and music are a whole different set of influences.  JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, THE TIN DRUM, and PERFORMANCE all got into my brain, just for instance.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

At the time, I was beginning to think about artistic projects I could do on my own, in my own (free) time, since I was working a couple of jobs and scheduling was an issue for things like music and theater.  I was living with cats for the first time, so I took that amusement/astonishment and my interest in worldbuilding and came up with my first novel, TAILCHASER’S SONG.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN is the first of a series of angel noir novels about Doloriel, aka Bobby Dollar, an earthbound angel.  Bobby tells the story first person, and so it combines my love of crazy situations, monsters, complex worlds, and aggressive fictionalizing, and adds lots of (dark) jokes and a faster pace to my usual suspects.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

My ideal trifecta is: first, entertained; second, surprised; third, ideas and questions creeping up long afterward.  I love genre fiction because I like the tradition and the formality — if you write a mystery, you’d better solve it in a way that makes sense and that the reader thinks is fair — but also that you can be as artistic as you want if you also keep the readers’ interest.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I remain fascinated by Pynchon’s fractalism, by Dickens sweep of character and event (and humor), by Hunter S. Thompson and James Thurber and Barbara Tuchman and Michael Moorcock and many others, and the joy that is sharing a smart person’s mind for a while.  I’ve lived thousands of lives by being a reader, and if I can add to that for some others, that’s a pretty cool legacy and a pretty good job.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To get better every book.  To keep challenging myself.  To have people quiver before me and nudge each other and whisper, “He’s a writer, you know.”  And to spread my evil legacy through many other kinds of stories — film, television, games, stage plays, and souvenir commemorative plates.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write and read.  Read and write.  Don’t just read the kind of stuff you’re writing — in fact, make that a small percentage of your day-to-day experience.  Read broadly.  Also, write regularly.  Don’t waste energy talking about it until it’s done.  Be real about the characters and situations you invent.  And finish things.